Interview: Rick Husband
STS-96 Crew Interviews with Rick Husband, Pilot.
Rick, you've got a job
that a lot of people in the world could only dream about having.
What is it that drove you to want to be an astronaut? Is that something
that goes back to when you were a little boy or came later in your
Yes, it does. From the
time when I was four years old, when the Mercury Program first got
started, I was in front of the TV for every one of the launches.
And the whole time I was growing up, for as long as I can remember,
anytime anybody asked me what I wanted to be, it was "I want to
be an astronaut." And so I worked toward that goal for years and
years and was fortunate enough to get selected four years ago; I'm
now very much looking forward to going up on my first flight.
You chose the pilot
route into the astronaut corps as opposed to the scientist route,
if you can make that distinction. Is there a particular reason for
Oh, I've just been interested
in aviation along with becoming an astronaut. I was always very
interested in airplanes, always wanted to be a pilot. And I'd run
out in the backyard when I was little and watch. Anytime I heard
an airplane flying over, I'd run outside to see what kind of airplane
it was and where it was going and everything, so I was very interested
in that. And so I got my private pilot's license started right after
I got out of high school, then I went through Air Force ROTC in
college and went into the Air Force after I graduated from college.
I went through test pilot's school and then applied several times
to come here, and eventually I made it.
After all of that, then,
and four years as an astronaut, STS-96 is going to be your first
spaceflight. Can you describe how you felt when you got the word
last year that you'd finally been assigned to a Shuttle mission?
Well, it was a big thrill.
It's really nice to feel like you can be associated with a crew;
especially in my case, I'm very fortunate with all the other crewmembers
that I have. Kent Rominger is a great guy to have as a commander;
Dan Barry and Tammy Jernigan and Ellen Ochoa and Julie Payette and
Valery Tokarev are all great folks. They're some mission specialists,
so we've got a super crew. And it was all very exciting to know
that we're going up to the International Space Station, that we'd
be the first mission to actually dock with the Space Station.
That is your mission.
Let's talk about the Space Station in general for a moment. Overall,
can you give us a sense of the complexity of the job? How hard is
it going to be to assemble a space station 200 miles up?
Well, the Space Station
assembly, from start to finish, is going to be a big job and there
are going to be a lot of challenges along the way. There'll be challenges
in the way that we take the pieces up there, the way that we attach
the pieces, the different space walks that have to be performed,
all the different operations that have to be performed to put the
different pieces where they are supposed to go, and then to hook
up the connections between the modules. It's going to be a big challenge
and we're certainly up to it. And it's going to be a great thing
to watch, I think, from here on Earth seeing this laboratory in
space being put together because it's going to be one of the largest
engineering feats that we've ever attempted and accomplished.
If the difficulty factor
is set out on a range, where does STS-96 fall in the range of the
degree of difficulty, if you will, of all of the missions to put
the Space Station together?
Well, there are certainly
a lot of missions that will be going up and installing pieces on
the Station where they'll be using the robotic arm and they won't
have a clear direct view of where that piece is going. So those
will be some of the top-end of the challenge missions. Our mission
from the standpoint of construction on the Space Station won't quite
be that high because we're supposed to be going up and transferring
some logistic supplies and also installing some equipment on the
outside of the Station. So those will be challenges in and of themselves.
But the thing that will
be challenging for us is the fact that since we are the first mission
to dock with the Station and in the configuration that the Station
is in, they had not originally expected that we would be docking
with just the node and the FGB. The attitude tolerance that the
Station maintains is a little bit wider than what the Station will
be later on. So the rendezvous and docking, the docking especially,
will be a little bit more challenging from that respect. And just
the fact that, you know, we're only the second flight up there,
means there are certainly some challenges associated with that as
You raised a couple
of different points and I'd like to touch on each one of them. STS-96
is described as a logistics and resupply mission. What's that mean?
What are you guys going to do when you get to the International
We're taking up several
thousand pounds of supplies on the orbiter and we'll have SPACEHAB
double module in the payload bay that is full of supplies that we'll
be transferring. So once we get docked to the Station, after Dan
and Tammy do their EVA and have installed the equipment on the outside
of the Station that they're supposed to install. Then we'll be opening
up the Station and going in and transferring all the equipment that
we brought up in the SPACEHAB and in the orbiter itself, taking
it over into the Station, and stowing it in the appropriate places.
We'll make sure that we let everybody know where the things are
stowed that we've transferred.
It's going to be a big
challenge from the standpoint of the fact that, say, during the
Shuttle/Mir days when they took a lot of supplies up there, you
had the cosmonauts who were onboard Mir already. And so they were
very familiar with the Station and they knew where everything was
going to go and so we would kind of hand things off to the cosmonauts
and they knew where to put things, and how to strap them down.
In our case, no one is
on the Station at this time. So we will be going up and docking
with the Station. We'll open up and we'll not only take the things
off the orbiter, but we got to take them into the Station, find
a place for them and put them in their appropriate place, and strap
them down. We have to make sure that they're secure and then make
sure that we've gotten it documented well enough. This is so that
the folks who go up to the Station later on and stay there permanently
will be able to know where to look for things, how to find them
and where we've put them before. So it's a bit more complex of a
transfer operation than what we've seen.
I'd like to ask you
to go one step further. Tell me why this transfer mission is important.
Why does what you're planning to do have to be done before the next
missions can fly, before the first crews can go to the Station?
Wwe've got a lot of supplies,
clothing, and equipment that is going up there, also some water
that we're transferring and things that need to be put in place
before a crew can be on the Station permanently. Also there's only
a certain amount of equipment and supplies that can be taken up
on one mission and there has been another logistics flights added
after the service module arrives. So we'll be the first of the logistics
flights and then there'll be some more that continue throughout
the rest of the program. So ours is just kind of the first step
in the sequence to making sure that the Station is outfitted properly
for people to be able to stay there for an extended time.
You made reference to
the mission that is scheduled to follow you. As a result of changes
in some launch schedules for Station components, there've been a
number of changes, and some of the jobs that this crew was originally
assigned were moved off until later flights. Things are still changing
even a couple of months before you've launched. How does the relatively
late change in some of the planned activities in your flight have
an impact on how you all prepare to execute this mission?
It means that we have to
go through some extra training towards the end of our flow to make
sure that we're ready to go and do the tasks that we need to do.
It's also exciting in some ways because if something needs to be
done on the Station, you know, everybody's pretty anxious to be
able to go up and help out and do what they can to put the Station
in the configuration that people want it in. So, yes, it's a challenge
from the standpoint of learning the tasks and making sure that we're
trained for them. But then it's also kind of exciting and an honor
to get to take part and do those things on the Station to help out
within the process.
One of the things that
will be a first on your mission is that you're the first to fly
with the Integrated Cargo Carrier we hear referred to as ICC. Tell
us about this cargo carrier, what it is and what you're going to
carry to orbit with it.
This cargo carrier is kind
of a large metal pallet that spans the width of the Shuttle payload
bay and on it, for our flight, we'll have attached some different
equipment. We'll have an American crane called an Orbital Transfer
Device. We'll also have a Russian crane called the STRELA. And we'll
also have a box, kind of like a big toolbox called the SHOSS box
that will be mounted on this pallet. And during the space walk that
Dan and Tammy do, they'll be going out and taking the different
cranes off of the ICC and then installing them on different places
on the Station.
On follow-on flights, the
ICC can be loaded up with whatever types of equipment that is necessary
and then it can also be removed from the payload bay with the robotic
arm. So, instead of people having to go and disconnect one piece,
take it to their work site, install it and then come back, you can
take the whole thing out of the payload bay and move it closer to
the work site. That way, it's right there where they can take the
equipment off, install it, go back and use it again. So it's like
a really big work platform that can be moved around with the robotic
arm to help with the tasks for building the Station.
We've set the scene;
I hope we've set the scene. Let's talk about some of the details
of your mission. Flight Day Three is when you are scheduled to dock
to the International Space Station. As you said, you and Kent will
fly the first-ever rendezvous and docking to the Space Station.
Talk us through that timeline. Describe the approach, the docking
and what you will be doing on Discovery's flight deck as you go
[The approach and docking]
will be on Flight Day Three and in addition to Kent and me will
be Ellen Ochoa and Tammy Jernigan working with us, so the four of
us are the rendezvous team. And what we'll be doing initially is
some orbital correction burns to align our orbit with the Space
Station. As we start to approach the Space Station, we will transfer
to looking out the window, at which time Kent will be flying looking
out the aft window. I'll be sitting up in the commander's seat and
I'll be doing some of the final burns that we need to do to make
the final corrections, at which point then Kent will take over flying
from the back seat.
Ellen will be working with
a tool that we use for rendezvous and docking called RPOP; it's
on a laptop computer and it stands for Rendezvous and Proximity
Operations Program. And what this thing does is it can show you
your trajectory with respect to the Station and how you're doing
with your burns, your corrections, and everything. And so it's a
tremendous aid and gives us a lot more situational awareness to
visualize where we are with respect to the Station and how our different
burns are doing. Also, Tammy will be working with a hand-held laser
and she'll be shooting the hand-held laser up at the Station and
will be able to get range and range rate and how fast we're closing
with the Station from that information. And we've also got some
tools in the payload bay called a Trajectory Control System, a TCS,
which will also give us information for range and range rate. And
all those things are incorporated into this program that Ellen is
So all four of us will
be keeping an eye on where we are on the timeline, and helping Kent
out as he flies the rendezvous. In our case, we'll be coming up
underneath the Station and doing a flyaround to fly from underneath
it to on top, and then come down for the docking. And we do that
so that communication signals from the Russian ground stations won't
be blocked by the orbiter, so that we're not between the ground
and the Station itself.
So we'll be coming in from
the top and coming down to dock with the Station. That is a bit
of a challenge from the flying standpoint and we've been practicing
that a lot in the simulators. One other thing that's going to be,
I suspect, really beautiful is that we'll go from seeing the Station
against the black background of space to then seeing it come up
with the Earth in the background; we'll be docking with the Station
with the Earth in the background. So it should be something really
beautiful to watch as well.
You've talked with your
colleagues from STS-88, the only people who've been there so far.
What have they told you about the Station? How are their firsthand
impressions and experiences going to be put to use by you and your
The crew of STS-88, did
a great job on their mission. Their mission just went flawlessly
and they did a super job. They've been really good about passing
along this information about how the rendezvous went: different
techniques that they used during the flyaround, different things
about the Station on the inside, little tricks that we can use as
far as transferring things, moving around the Station. It'd be as
if somebody had bought a brand-new car or something like that, and
then they were going to try to give you a little briefing about
how to drive it, you know? They just kind of filled us in on the
little idiosyncrasies of the Station and different things that we
need to know to accomplish our mission. It's been very helpful with
the different briefings we've gotten from them.
The day after you've
docked to the Station is the day that Tammy and Dan are to leave
the Shuttle for six hours and go outside for the space walk. Tell
me about the tasks that are planned for that space walk and what
you'll be doing that day inside the Shuttle to assist.
Julie Payette is the IVA
crewmember, the Intra-Vehicular Activity crewmember, so she'll be
the one who is in charge of helping them get suited up and running
them through their timeline once they're outside. I'll be helping
them suit up and while Julie is running the timeline for the space
walk, Ellen will be operating the robotic arm. Tammy is going to
be on the arm and Dan will be translating hand-over-hand to the
different places on the Station. What I'm going to be doing is helping
with cameras for Ellen and for Julie. So I'll be positioning the
cameras so that we can get a view of them because from where we
are, with the configuration that the payload bay is in, the node
sits about just right over the top of the overhead windows. And
then the docking structure is right out the aft window, so we don't
have a very good view into the payload bay.
All of the work that Dan
and Tammy are going to be doing is going to be back in the payload
bay and on the part of the Station that faces away from the cockpit.
So we'll be using those cameras that are outside in the payload
bay and on the arm to really keep an eye on where they are, what
they're doing, and how their progress is going. So I'll be helping
out with the cameras there, and also helping them suit up.
You mentioned about
where the Station is in proximity to the crew cabin of Discovery.
On STS-88 we saw that the Station seemed like it was right outside
the window, but in fact, this time it's going to be even closer.
Tell me how much and why that is.
The configuration in the
payload bay for our mission is a little bit different than what
it was for STS-88; with our double SPACEHAB module, we've got a
tunnel that goes back to the module. Our mission will be set up
so that the docking system is right outside the aft bulkhead of
the crew compartment, and then the hatch that they go out of for
their space walk will be aft of the docking system. On STS-88 the
docking system was a bit further back in the payload bay. And so,
in our case, it's going to be amazing, I think, watching the node
come down because, as I said, it's going to be overhanging the overhead
windows of the crew compartment. And so when it comes in and we
dock with that thing, it's going to seem very, very close.
The day after the space
walk is the day that all seven of you are to have your first opportunity
to enter the International Space Station. What do you expect that
you will feel when you get the opportunity finally to enter this
Station that you've been studying for so long?
I think that it'll be very
exciting. I can't think of any other word; it will be very exciting
to get to go into the Space Station and just to see how it was left
by the previous crew. Also just the fact that here we are on a brand-new
Space Station that has not been permanently manned yet. It's a tremendous
honor to get to do it for one thing and very exciting just to be
part of the process of building the Space Station.
Do you think it still
has the new smell?
I'm thinking it probably
will, although I'll have to let you know what it smells like after
we get back.
You and your crewmates
are scheduled to spend several days with Discovery docked to the
Station transferring materials, and you referred to it before, but
I'll ask you to do it again. Talk about the plans for the supplies
transfer process itself, as well as the kinds of materials that
you'll be moving from one end to the other.
We will be taking things
from the double SPACEHAB module in the orbiter payload bay and Ellen
will be in there organizing the transfer of that — what comes out
of the SPACEHAB first and where it's supposed to go. And then Julie
and Valery will be in the Space Station and they'll be handling
where things are supposed to be stowed when they get there. And
then Dan and Tammy and I will be the runners back and forth with
the equipment, while Romel [Commander Kent Rominger] will be kind
of maintaining the big picture with the orbiter and the Station
We've got to stow things
in the FGB and in the node. Some of the things that we've got to
be mindful of are that we want to try doing it in as orderly a fashion
as possible. And, you know, in an ideal case we'd like to start
at the back end of the FGB and work forward, and then do the node
and be finished. We'll have to see how well that plan works out
when we get there.
Some of the interesting
things that we have to deal with in the FGB are airflow, because
when we open panels to put equipment behind those panels, we interrupt
the airflow in the FGB. And so we've got time constraints that we
can have doors open in certain sections of the module itself. So
we've got to be real careful about watching our time and watching
which panels are open and in what zone. We've got to be just very
disciplined in our approach in the way that we handle that in the
FGB. Some of the equipment that we're going to be transferring are
some large avionics components, some different things that'll be
used later on the Station, some clothing for the crews when they'll
be up there a little bit later, additional tools, and a host of
other equipment. We've still got things that're being added to the
list right now.
Late in the docked operations,
you and Kent are slated for an experiment to evaluate the operation
of a system to be used in the future to transfer water and air and
other gases from the Shuttle to the Station. Talk about that system
and what it is, how you two will be testing it during your mission.
It's a pretty basic test.
In the orbiter right now they've got some lines that are already
plugged into the orbiter to transfer oxygen, nitrogen and water.
And what we'll be doing is attaching these lines to the Space Station.
And we'll be taking pictures of how we hook them up and how that
goes. And then we'll be taking pictures of what the lines look like
before we pressurize them. Then after they've been pressurized,
we'll see if there is significant change in what the lines do when
they're under pressure. And this'll be something that will need
to be done on the Space Station every time the orbiter goes: they'll
be transferring the oxygen, nitrogen and water to the Station. So
this'll be a test — kind of a very basic but very important resupply
system for the Space Station.
We talked about quite
a variety of things that you're going to do while you're there.
If you look at everything that's planned and, recognizing the fact
that the whole plan isn't put together at the day we're speaking,
what is it that you can look at and say, This has to be done? This
is the minimum we have to do in order for STS-96 to be considered
We would need to dock with
the Station for starters, then the EVA needs to be accomplished,
and then we need to transfer the equipment that we've brought up.
And those are kind of the three basic things that we need to accomplish
while we're there. We also just recently have been told that we'll
be doing some in-flight maintenance on the FGB with some of the
voltage regulators for the batteries. And so that's another thing
that we want to make sure that we are able to accomplish on this
For somebody who's been
enamored of space flight, just flying, since you were four years
old, undocking day must be something you're looking forward to.
The day you, Discovery, turn loose of the Station and flies around
it and you're going to be at the controls. Tell us the story of
that day. What's going to happen?
We will be all set up on
the flight deck again with Kent and Ellen and Tammy and me getting
all the tools ready to go for the undocking. We will make sure that
we've got the go from Houston for the undocking. And then Tammy
and Ellen will be working the docking system and they'll set the
sequence in motion for the latches to unlock. And then at the point
that the latches do unlock, we will separate from the Station; they've
got some springs in the docking system that will give us an initial
rate, a separation rate, and at that point we'll start flying the
orbiter away. And what we'll do is we'll back out away from the
Station 'til we get out to about 450 feet and then we'll fly around
Currently we plan to fly
around two full revolutions and we'll do that somewhere in the range
from 400 to 500 feet. And while we're doing that we'll be taking
photos and video of the Station, getting a good look at it and making
sure that everything's in good shape. And I'm really looking forward
to it myself, you know, from the standpoint of getting to fly the
orbiter and do this flyaround and, you know, put in actual practice
all the training that we're going through, from my standpoint as
far as getting to fly. So I'm very, very much looking forward to
Your mission is not
adding another large piece to this Station. Why then is it important
to do a thorough photographic examination of the exterior that has
not changed substantially since the first mission was there?
During the time that the
last mission was up there and the time that our mission will arrive
there will have been several months that have passed. And, with
satellites or Space Station or any kind of space craft in lower
Earth orbit, there's always the chance of some type of micrometeoroid,
some debris or something like that could damage the Station in some
way. And so it's kind of a precautionary thing that we do just to
ensure that there is, in fact, nothing wrong with the Station. And
so it will be a wonderful thing to go and look at the pictures and
see everything clean. But if we do see that there's something wrong,
some section has been penetrated by a small object, or something
like that, then that would be something worth knowing before the
next mission goes up.
On your way home, you
and some of your crewmates are scheduled to deploy a satellite that's
known as Starshine. What is the science behind this satellite? And
describe what you'll be doing on that day.
It's a very interesting
project. Starshine is a 19-inch-diameter aluminum sphere and it's
got aluminum, polished aluminum mirrors, about 900 of 'em, all attached
to the outside of this ball. And what we will do is after we have
separated from the Station and gotten away from it, we will deploy
Starshine. And this satellite is designed so that students all around
the world can track the satellite; they should be able to see it
during sunrise and sunset periods, in the different places around
the world depending on the time and the orbit.
And it's set up so that
all these students can share their information from around the world,
from their observations. And what they can do is, by determining
the orbital parameters based on their observations, they can determine
what the atmospheric drag effects are on the satellite. They're
going to do it over a six-month period. And, as the orbit changes
based on the changes that they see from their observations on the
ground, they'll be able to figure out what the atmospheric drag
effects are on the satellite as the orbit degrades over that six-month
period. So it's going to be, I think, pretty interesting for the
students that go through that. Not only from the standpoint of getting
to look at the satellite, doing the calculations, and learning more
about how the orbital mechanics works, but also just the networking
involved in communicating with the kids around the world. And, sorting
out the different parameters for the satellite and trying to determine
the effects. So I think it'll be a very interesting experiment.
People all around the
world have been paying attention to the start of the assembly, the
International Space Station. Because of your time studying it, preparing
for this mission, you have an understanding of why it's there that
a lot of other people don't, so I want to take advantage of your
expertise. For those who aren't intimately involved in it, can you
give us a good idea of the role that the International Space Station
is going to play in the future of space flight and the future of
The International Space
Station will be the largest laboratory in space that we've got up
to this point; we'll be doing a lot of experiments that will involve
microgravity and crystal growth for determining better medicines
for different diseases here on Earth. We'll also be doing a lot
of studies on the human body and how the human body adapts to weightlessness
over long periods and the different effects that the human body
has or different effects of microgravity on the human body. And
you can see bone deterioration as the result of that; they can find
out some of the methods to mitigate those effects. It can also be
used for folks who have osteoporosis. We will try, to the maximum
extent possible, to take the things we've learned up there and find
practical applications for people here on Earth. So the overall
main goal is to try to take what we've learned and improve the quality
of life here on Earth.
The other thing it'll help
us to do is it gives us experience building large structures in
space, in a vacuum environment. And so we hope to take that expertise
and the experience we've gotten from working with international
partners and go back to the moon and, hopefully, go to Mars eventually.
And that is something that we will look forward to with bated breath,
as time goes by — going back to the moon and eventually going to
Mars. And taking the things that we've learned on the International
Space Station and applying them to those missions as well.